The offensive line, shallow depth at running back, and pretty much the entire defense — the 49ers, 3-5 on the season, have too many problems to count and more are added weekly.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers’ quarterback, has been fine — perhaps even good, if we’re grading on the curve — the past two weeks.
He’s not the problem.
But he’s not the solution, either.
And my, do the Niners need some solutions right now.
The quarterback situation is the perfect encapsulation of the 49ers’ state of purgatory. A lame duck is at the helm of a team that finds new ways to lose seemingly every week, playing for a postseason spot that looks increasingly unlikely, but not yet mathematically impossible. (Far from it, in fact.)
And it’s not as if there’s hope that comes with a bad season — the Niners’ first-round draft pick is properly of Miami, a byproduct of the trade that brought in the team’s supposed franchise quarterback, Garoppolo’s replacement, Trey Lance.
While I’ve been on the record for months that the 49ers should change quarterbacks and hand the reigns to Lance, I’m done pretending as if Shanahan is going to make the switch anytime soon.
But how about a few snaps for the kid?
A different look might do this team well. It could add some purpose to the proceedings. It might even add some juice to a squad that plays like a bunch of recently divorced dads going to the DMV.
It’s not a big ask — Lance plays and series were part of Shanahan’s plan for the 2021 regular season.
“Trey’s going to play for us this year,” Shanahan said in August. “I mean that, situationally, he is going to get plays.”
Yet we haven’t seen No. 5 since Week 5.
Lance saw four snaps vs. the Lions in Week 1. He threw for a touchdown in that game. He was on the field for three snaps against the Packers. He ran for a touchdown in that one.
Trey Lance comes in at QB for a special package play.
Trey Sermon in the game, comes around in motion.
Crowd going absolutely bonkers at Levi’s Stadium.
This clip might as well be from a different season. It was Week 3. pic.twitter.com/Eyjf68VS6P
— Dieter Kurtenbach (@dieter) November 10, 2021
Lance then took over as the Niners’ top quarterback over after Garoppolo injured his calf in Week 4 and he started Week 5 in Arizona.
But a mysterious knee injury, picked up at some yet-to-be-discovered point in his spot start against the Cardinals, kept Lance out of the Niners’ Week 7 game against the Colts, killing any momentum he had in the process.
But the last two weeks, he’s been healthy and in uniform.
So why hasn’t he played a snap?
Shanahan cited “situation” when Lance didn’t play in Week 2 vs. the Eagles.
They are “situational” packages, after all.
But for Shanahan — ever the idealist when it comes to his offense — conditions clearly weren’t perfect to put Lance on the field the last two weeks.
That, of course, is presuming that Shanahan hasn’t put Lance in his dog house, alongside Trey Sermon. Perhaps he took Brandon Aiyuk’s spot. Heaven forbid there be a vacancy.
But given the circumstances at play, it’s time for Shanahan to loosen up — either on the kid, the conditions Shanahan would like to use him in, or both.
Lance needs reps — Shanahan has admitted as much multiple times since he drafted the North Dakota State quarterback. The Minnesotan lacks experience. He only played one “showcase” game last season thanks to the pandemic and he’s coming from the second tier of college football.
The Niners’ upcoming Monday Night Football against the Rams is the perfect time to re-introduce Lance to the offense and provide some experience to the kid, even if it’s only for a few plays.
If ever there was a contest where the Niners need to pull out all the stops — for Shanahan to go into the “break in case of emergency” section of his playbook — this is it.
The Niners play in the toughest division in football, and being 3-6 with an 0-4 record in the division would ensure that no one in football has to take this team seriously in 2021.
Call it make-or-break, must-win, whatever. The situation is already bad in Santa Clara, but it’d be justly deemed irredeemable if they lost on national TV to their rivals.
Plus, the Rams know everything the Niners do with Garoppolo at quarterback. There’s no fooling them there.
But I doubt the Rams — or any team in the NFL — knows much about the special Lance packages.
The Niners have a secret weapon. They traded three first-round picks to acquire it. The season — and respectability for Shanahan’s tenure as head coach — is on the line.
It’s time to show it off. Let’s see the kid.